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MIKE DOWNEY

Time Finally Has Come to Part Ways

September 22, 1993|MIKE DOWNEY

There is a given that a man must never hit a woman. It is a necessary societal safeguard meant to protect women from pathetic creeps who get their jollies by overpowering individuals of inferior physique into some form of submission, regardless of the sizes, strengths or self-protective capacities of many modern women.

So, all some people needed to know is that on Sept. 4 of this year, 6-foot-6, 215-pound Darryl Strawberry, a 31-year-old professional athlete, was hauled into police headquarters for having struck in the face his live-in companion, Charisse Simons, 26, who needed hospital treatment for a one-inch cut over her right eye.

It has since taken more than two weeks to ascertain that during a domestic quarrel, according to the district attorney's office, Simons scratched Strawberry, slapped Strawberry, and then, after he had gone to bed, picked up a baseball bat and began jabbing him with it near the base of his spine, where he had undergone recent surgery. Strawberry gave her a slap, once, hard, across the face.

Yet why this man struck this woman seemed to be of no concern to some. A man must not hit a woman, under any circumstances--particularly this man, someone who had had a previously reported incident with another woman who was then his wife. This was cowardly and criminal behavior by a habitual offender that must be dealt with accordingly, a popular reasoning went.

It would have gone easier, surely, on what remains of Strawberry's reputation had he risen from bed, gotten dressed and gone to a motel, doing nothing. He no longer has the pitiable excuse of alcoholism that once accounted for his actions away from the baseball field. But because it is generally more natural to react than to act, Strawberry screwed up his life again by raising his hand.

And now his employers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, do not know what to do with him. Darryl Strawberry happens to be a baseball player of immense skill and promise mostly unfulfilled. He also happens to be a walking time bomb, programmed to detonate at regular intervals. His popularity with the general public has eroded, even in his hometown, so that forgiveness seems slow in coming, and yet the Dodgers recognize the powerful hypocrisy of a hostile audience that can be quickly mollified by a home run.

Strawberry intends to play baseball again and is rehabilitating in the desert heat, straining to do precisely that. Whether he plays again for the Dodgers is something the club must decide, for reasons that go beyond a youth movement that already has resulted in the jettisoning of Eric Davis, another expensive outfielder and Strawberry's pal and support system.

The left sides of the Dodger brain trust's brains must be telling them to shed Strawberry now, before anything else happens. It is a voice they should hear and obey, because weeks ago, Strawberry had absolutely nothing to offer them, no production value, no market value, no public sentiment and no reasonable expectation of ever giving the Dodgers their money's worth.

Now, or at least in a few weeks, when this gruesome season of baseball is behind them, the Dodgers should divest themselves of Strawberry and write off the entire experience as a bad investment. They have frisky minor leaguers who are ready, willing and able to play--similar to the club's best two players of 1992 and 1993, Eric Karros and Mike Piazza--and there is nothing in Strawberry's repertoire suggesting that his contribution to 1994 will be superior in any way except in cost.

However, the one thing that must be emphasized more strongly than ever before is that Strawberry, while having the kind of personal turmoil that plagues so many less-publicized human beings, is not a man who should be prejudged by those too impatient to wait for all the facts. Neither his recent domestic disturbance nor his opening-day encounter with a pair of hitchhikers has turned out to be as detrimental to Darryl as first suspected, reminding us again and again not to be so quick to believe the accuser over the accused.

Lashing out verbally, Strawberry has said that his being "black and successful" could account for many of the unfair prejudices against him. He must be made to comprehend that we also have little tolerance for white, unsuccessful men who misbehave. That goes for women, too.

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